If you are an Aussie or Kiwi, the newly formed Trans-Tasman rugby competition should sit well with you. Less matches against South African teams, same number of local derbies, better time zones and less travel, plus an extra international opponent.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It seems the ARU has listened to its supporters and players.
If you are a New Zealand supporter you might be a tad unhappy about the fact that New Zealand franchises will play against less South African teams, but the benefits of less travel, more local content, and better time zones will make up for it.
Perhaps the New Zealand Rugby Union didn’t exactly listen to their supporters.
If you are a South African supporter then there isn’t that much to get excited about. ‘Oh but you get to play Argentina and Japan’ they will tell us. Yeah great, add two more destinations to our schedule, two more time zones and more travel.
And great, we now get to see the Currie Cup twice a year. It seems the SARU has decided the Currie Cup needs a back-up plan – just in case you miss the early version, you get to catch up on it in October.
Teams in the same conference are now guaranteed to play each other four times a year, and if we are really, really lucky, we can see the same teams play each other as many as six times a year. Now isn’t that something?
Teams not in your conference are fortunate enough to play only three times a year minimum.
But that is not the biggest bummer in this new format, South African franchises will now only play five of their matches against either a New Zealand conference or an Australian conference, bringing the percentage of matches we have been so graciously permitted to partake in during the Trans-Tasman Stupor Rugby competition to 33 per cent.
It seems the SARU has no clue what their supporters want, or perhaps they don’t care and are more interested in keeping the politicians at bay than keeping their supporters happy?
Why then would this be an issue you ask?
Well, truth be told there is a trend that has been forming over the last number of years. It is difficult not to make the summation that the SARU is either slowly being marginalised in the Super Rugby setup, or there is an issue with Super Rugby now becoming a multinational, overgrown unorganised mess.
If you consider that during the Super 12, South African teams played 66 per cent of their matches against the Trans-Tasman teams, and 60 per cent of their matches against the Trans-Tasman teams during the Super 14, with a reduction to 50 per cent during the Super Rugby, the new figure of 33 per cent suggests there is less to come in future negotiations.
If the intention is to get rid of SARU by slowly phasing them out by reducing the number of matches the antipodean teams are involved in, there aren’t many more games that can be taken away. So you would expect the next contract negotiations to bring about the SANZAR partnership as far as Super Rugby is concerned.
If SANZAR is convinced that less inter-conference matches and more local content is the way to go, then why not have a short, truncated Super 9 competition with the best three teams from each country in a 10-12 week period, thereby opening the calendar for proper local rugby competitions?
When local derbies provide the majority of the fixtures, what is so Super about it?
By continuing to have such a long competition, it still does not allow enough time in the calendar for South African rugby to expand their local Currie Cup to more teams. Instead it forces their supporters to watch the same opponents face each other repeatedly.
As for Super Rugby, it is supposed to be strength versus strength, I would much rather see the best each nation has to offer, than watch the same local derbies over and over. Sometimes less is more, if you want to reduce travel, sure, no problem, if you want quality matches, reduce the number of teams.
Let the NRC, ITM and Currie Cup be the vehicle whereby each country’s franchises qualify for the Super Rugby competition.
It will provide relevance for the local competitions and it won’t just be about a Cup, it will be about qualifying from within your own local professional competition. It will be about claiming the right to represent your community in the highest quality interprovincial rugby competition in the world.
As it stands now, the qualification process, the ‘fairness’ of the conferences, and the unevenness in numbers of the conferences is ludicrous. Throw in the manner in which SANZAR has decided which ‘group’ gets which home play-off matches, and the seeding of teams for those play-offs and it gets even worse.
Super Rugby as of next year will be a convoluted mess of epic proportions. It is no longer about allowing every team a fair chance to get to the play-offs, it is no longer about finding the best and most consistent team in the competition.
‘Stupor Rugby’ has turned the most prestigious rugby competition in the southern hemisphere into just another volume of sports content.
It does not stand out from the rest, it is no longer unique and if the intention is to continue growing the number of participants then the importance of ‘less is more’ will be forever lost.